Courts Health Reproductive Choice

Supreme Court Upholds Religious and Moral Exemptions for ACA Birth Control Coverage

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld a Trump Administration rule which expands the types of organizations that can claim religious or moral exemptions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The rule allows these organizations to refuse to cover birth control under their health insurance plans. Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. Justices Kagan and Breyer filed concurring opinions, while Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented. The decision is projected to lead to millions of women losing access to birth control through their health insurance plans and is seen as a major victory for the Trump administration.

Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is a devastating blow to millions of women, transgender, and nonbinary people who rely on their employer-provided healthcare to cover the high costs of contraceptives. This move gives their employers the power to make decisions about their employee’s healthcare without their consent,” said the Feminist Majority Foundation in a statement. “This decision hurts most those who can least afford birth control including young women, poor women, and disproportionately women of color. Today’s ruling emphasizes the urgent need  for Congress to codify the coverage of contraceptives as part of the preventative healthcare package included in the ACA.”

In 2017, the Trump administration announced that it would begin rolling back the Obama-era contraceptive mandate which required employers to cover all birth control expenses for employees as part of the ACA. The mandate included exemptions for places of worship, but not for organizations owned by them, such as Catholic schools. Nonprofit religious groups could opt-out of the mandate, but had to notify the government as well as their health insurance company, which would then provide the birth control coverage themselves.  In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that “closely-held for-profit entities” could also opt-out of birth control coverage.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue commented that “these reckless attacks on birth control access are nothing more than another shameless effort by the radical right to advance their agenda of power and control, no matter the cost to women and families.”

The new Trump administration regulations expand these exemptions to allow any nonprofit or for-profit employer to claim a religious exemption under the ACA. This includes religious universities as well as publically-traded companies. Nonprofit organizations with a “moral” objection to providing birth control as part of their health insurance can also seek an exemption. The regulations no longer require organizations to provide employees with alternative options for birth control coverage, as the Obama-era regulations did. Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued the Trump Administration over the new rule and a lower court had previously blocked its enforcement.

Justice Ginsberg, in the dissenting opinion, stated that “in accommodating claims of religious freedom, this court has taken a balanced approach, one that does not allow the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs. Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights…”

Sources: NBC News 7/8/20; ABC News 7/8/20; CBS News 7/8/20; NPR 7/8/20; The Atlantic 10/6/17; The Associated Press 7/8/20; NARAL Pro-Choice America 5/5/20; Feminist Newswire 10/6/17